Hijacked journals ‘siphon millions of dollars’ from research

International action needed to eliminate ‘cloned journals’ that prey on early career researchers, says Indian research integrity adviser

August 30, 2021
Source: istock

Fraudulent journals that hijack the identity of legitimate scholarly publications are becoming one of the biggest problems for India’s research system, with millions of dollars a year being “siphoned” into international publishing scams, a research integrity expert has warned.

Sumit Narula, deputy dean of research (publications and citations) at Amity University, which has campuses in Mumbai, Kolkata and Jaipur, told Times Higher Education that he was alarmed by the rising numbers of Indian scholars falling for so-called “hijacked” or “cloned” journals, in which fraudsters create near-identical domain names to established journals and charge fees of up to US$1,000 (£728) for “publication” in these outlets without peer review or editing.

“It is alarming that so many young research scholars are being fooled,” said Dr Narula, who runs workshops to help early career researchers spot predatory journals, with Indian PhD candidates required to take mandatory training on this subject since 2019.

“It is probably costing India’s research system millions of dollars – money which is being siphoned out of our system,” he added.

While the practice was first identified back in 2011, hijacked journals have risen to prominence in recent months after Anna Abalkina, a research fellow at Free University of Berlin, discovered that almost 400 papers from three hijacked journals featured in the World Health Organisation’s official library of Covid-19 papers, including 70 papers from India.

Several European journals, including Talent Development and Excellence (hijacked as the Journal of Talent Development and Excellence), the Transylvanian Review and the Annals of the Romanian Society for Cell Biology have also been cloned in recent years, with the fraudulent publications being listed on Scopus, owned by Elsevier, explained Dr Abalkina in a Retraction Watch article in May.

For the latter hijacked journal, which charges $200 an article, more than 5,000 papers were published in 2021, of which 1,458 came from India-based authors, she discovered, adding that hundreds of hijacked journals are thought to exist.

“India is most affected by this because people are keen to get a PhD but not so worried about doing the research required or where it is published, so long as it is in a journal that meets official requirements,” said Dr Narula. India’s University Grants Council holds an approved list of journals where scholars are allowed to publish, where cloned journals have appeared.

“This lackadaisical attitude is partly why it is happening, but there is another 50 per cent of scholars who are genuinely fooled because they are not checking [whether] the journal is of poor quality,” said Dr Narula, who is editor-in-chief of the Scopus-indexed Journal of Content Community and Communication.

While cloned journals often make extensive efforts to replicate the online content of genuine publications, there are telltale signs of fraudulent publications, he said. These include the failure to mention submission deadlines or the contact details of the publisher, promises to publish research papers in a short time span such as 48 hours, misleading profiles of editorial board members and ambiguous descriptions of a journal’s impact factor.

While increased researcher education was needed to improve awareness, internationally coordinated action was also required to close down hijacked journals more swiftly, he added.

“They are often based in India, but the domain names are also registered in Morocco, China, Iceland and Singapore – these are illegal websites that exist for one or two years before they are shut down when their purpose of making money is done, but I think other countries can do more,” he said.


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